Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Geoff Dyer - Psychedelic Trance - Guardian - January 4 1999

Lighten up! It's fluoro mania

The Guardian

January 4 1999 

by Geoff Dyer

Sometimes two quite separate events, incidents with no connection, snag in the mind. They seem related to each other in a way that remains tantalisingly out of reach. It is only when they are joined by a third element that their relationship becomes clear.

Rummaging through a box of odds and ends in the attic of my parents' house, I came across an old alarm clock, made by Westclox. Faded to a dull green, the hands and numbers had once been fiercely luminescent. As a boy I loved shining a torch on to the clock face, after which the green would blaze more brightly in the darkness. Holding the clock in my adult hands I vaguely remembered that, in the seventies, the factory making these clocks was closed down because the luminescent paint was radioactive.

A few weeks later, I was flicking through a book of Helmut Newton's photographs. I've always loathed Newton's work but this time that visceral personal response had mellowed into a more generalised appraisal.

Newton's take on women seemed as obsolete as James Bond's. It wasn't just Newton himself: an entire vision of so-called elegance, an elaborately contrived construct of glamour - lipstick, cigarettes, stilettos - was extinct, as alluring and vital as a pub on a Sunday morning.

These two objects - the old alarm clock and the shiny new book of Newton's boring old photos were linked. I couldn't say how. . .

Not until I went to a party given by the Dreamspell Collective in San Francisco. From the outside there was just a grey door; inside, the space was ablaze with psychedelic fluoro. Every room, even the lavatory, was bedecked with glowing Goan drapes. Everyone was wearing some kind of fluoro-ethnic adornment. The women had their hair tied with fluoro beads, or were wearing fluoro earrings or bracelets. We were, to put it briefly, in the fluoro world.

For all I know, everything about the trance aesthetic is passe, but what does it matter if, from a fashion point of view, lapels are being worn an inch wider this year? Who gives a toss? You think of the trance community - hippies and crusties, according to people decked out in the allegedly fashionable blacks and greys of famously dreary designers - and are filled with something like wonder. The striking thing about the Oscar ceremony, by contrast, is how horrible everyone looks in their finery.

The purpose of black-tie events like the Booker Prize is, similarly, to render the men repulsive - red-faced and bloated - and the women ghastly. The international trance scene, on the other hand, is radiant with enduring loveliness.

At another party, in Wales, I remarked to a friend's wife on the stunning beauty of one of the women there. 'You don't say that kind of thing at a psy trance party!' came the reply. This seemed an unnecessarily stern rebuke but, from her point of view, I was imposing what might be termed a Newtonian vision on proceedings. That vision, that prerogative of the male gaze, is anathema to the fluoro world, to its (sometimes rather hackneyed) spirituality, its beauty, its evident eroticism.

A paradox is at work. Characterised by a refusal of all the constraints of glamour, by an unequivocal rejection of stylised lechery, by a complex etiquette that is at once ultra-democratic and highly sophisticated, the trance world is, nevertheless, the apotheosis of glamour, one of its two last preserves (the other, to be found in cities such as Naples, is the glamour of poverty).

This quality, at once Edenic and millennial, is conveyed by Yeats in one of the poems from his 'A Woman Young and Old' sequence. 'If I make the lashes dark/And the eyes more bright/And the lips more scarlet. . . /No vanity's displayed:/I'm looking for the face I had/Before the world was made.' In the dream-space of trance all the jaded merchandise of glamour - even lipstick! - is re-charged, like that old Westclox alarm, and purified by black light. Fluoro is glamour incarnate: an ultra-violet illusion.

A dream is made real, the real is rendered insubstantial, oneiric. Domestic dance culture, apparently, is dying on its feet. In this deep twilight, fluoro - whatever its standing in the temporal hierarchy of fashion - represents an unsurpassable peak, glowing, iridescent.

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